Quick, name the top point guards in the high school class of 2003 playing in the NBA right now. There is Chris Paul, who has solidified himself as one the top guards in the world. You have the reigning Most Improved Player in Aaron Brooks. There’s Shannon Brown, who has two rings with the Lakers. And now you may have to add Mustafa Shakur to this list after singing with the New Orleans Hornets this summer.
The Philadelphia native was named the 2003 Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania after a superb career at Friends Central before Arizona was his next stop. Looking at his four-year career average of 10.1 points and 5.1 assists, some feel Shakur did not live up to his high school ranking, but he did finish third all-time in assists with 670.
Going undrafted in 2007, Shakur has taken a road to the League he never would have imagined. His overseas stops include Poland for Euroleague team Prokom Trefl Sopot and Spain playing for Tau Ceramica. The 6-4 guard spent this past season playing for the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League where he averaged 19.2 points, 6.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. For Mustafa, whose first name means “chosen one,” he hopes this year is his chosen time. Before the Hornets started training camp, he spoke with us about his career thus far.
Dime: Coming out of Friends Central in Philly, you were regarded as one of the top players in the country. Do you feel like you lived up to expectations at Arizona?
Mustafa Shakur: In some ways I think I did and some ways I think I could have played better. I think what definitely hurt me is being so far away from home, not having my family and being a real family guy, I wasn’t used to taking care of my body. Another thing I learned was how to manage the game. When I was in high school, I was so used to taking a lot of shots and pretty much doing whatever I wanted to on the court. Then I got to college, I really didn’t have an understanding of how to manage the game. I didn’t pick up on that until maybe the end of my junior year in college.
Dime: In past years, Arizona has been known as “Point Guard U,” producing NBA players like Mike Bibby, Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry and Gilbert Arenas. How much pride do you take to live up to that standard?
MS: I take a lot of pride in that. That was one of the biggest reasons why I went there to be amongst that. I’m still proud of what I’ve done there. I’m like number three in assists there and a lot of people don’t know that.
Dime: You went undrafted in 2007, but latched on with the Kings for Summer League and preseason. Why didn’t it work out in Sacramento?
MS: Ironically I was cut after the first regular season game in New Orleans. Mike Bibby got hurt right before the regular season started. He was going to be out for three months. So they released me to sign a more veteran guy in Beno Udrih. I felt like I was ready but it’s up to the team. If they don’t feel like I’m ready, that was the decision they made.
Dime: You played overseas and came back to play in the D-League. Is the D-League the best situation for a player trying to take that next step?
MS: It was the best decision that I’ve made in a while. Because you’re running all the NBA sets. You’re doing the same exact things that mirror your NBA affiliate team. Our Tulsa team was owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Overseas, you can play well but sometimes it gets overlooked because NBA scouts aren’t at every game.
Dime: Talk about your time with the Thunder who signed you to a 10-day contract.
MS: They already had Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor. There wasn’t a necessity for me to play. I think it was more of building a relationship with me and getting me acclimated to everything if they were to possibly sign me for the next year. I think I handled myself really well. If you talk to Sam Presti (Thunder GM), I think he will have nothing but good things to say.
Dime: What are your thoughts of Hornets head coach Monty Williams?
MS: What I like about him is his attention to detail. He has seriousness that you can really appreciate it. It kind of reminds me of Scott Brooks. You can tell the leadership qualities that he has.
Dime: Does this team have the talent to compete in the west?
MS: I definitely think so. We have Trevor Ariza, Peja Stojakovic. He looks great. He’s been in the gym every day. He looks healthy. We have [Marco] Belinelli now, David West and Emeka Okafor. I think if everybody is healthy we can compete. I think we have the potential to be in the playoffs.
Dime: How ironic is it to play with Chris Paul after you guys were the top point guards in the class of 2003?
MS: Yup, same McDonald’s game, we also won a gold medal in USA Basketball. I was talking to my brother about it, I was like, “I hope we get the opportunity to play on the court together,” and we have the last few days in pickup. It felt real smooth and fluid. I saw Jannero Pargo play with him two or three years ago when they played so well.
Dime: Have you talked to Chris about the rumored trade requests during the summer?
MS: I haven’t heard anybody here talk about it at all. Everybody is really just thinking about chemistry and getting prepared.
Dime: How has the adjustment been in New Orleans and what is your favorite dish?
MS: Charbroiled oysters. I never ate oysters before in my life. They’re like the best thing I’ve ever had besides a cheese steak. I think New Orleans is a great place to visit. I’m excited for this year. I’m hoping to make a huge impact here with the team.
Dime: Have you circled the date when you guys play the Sixers on December 12?
MS: I go back to Philly all the time. Everybody is talking about that. Everybody is like I got my tickets ready so you don’t have to worry about getting me tickets. It’s definitely exciting. It will be good.
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